Writing from a woman’s point of view is a challenge for me, especially writing from a lesbian’s or even LGBT view in general. I’m your average straight cisgendered white guy, happily married, two children, no car, and no pets. In short, I’m the guy you see sitting in the diner hunched over a cup of coffee and a slice of day old pie and probably staring at the formica.
In the past, I’d always written about straight white male characters because that’s what I know best. Write about what you know, the experts say, and generally that’s damn good advice. However, a friend challenged me to write about what I didn’t know: “Why not challenge yourself and do the unexpected?”
I thought about it, and wondered what to do.
It was right at that moment — serendipity and all that — that I saw a picture of Jenna Talackova, the transgendered Miss Universe contestant from Canada who’d had to face a number of hurdles before even entering the contest.
I imagined what this process was like for her: the stares as she was transitioning. The comments, the whispers… and perhaps the hatred. I can only guess what she went through. But I saw the photos, ones that showed health and beauty and, yes, total femininity, and she inspired me.
And so, Twisted was born.
Twisted is not exactly a novel about a transgendered person. Rather, it’s a fantasy gender switch, the story of a young man whose mind enters a computer avatar — a female one. There, not only does he have to face the sexism of the setting (medieval England), but also his fear and wonder and awe — and finally, his acceptance — of becoming someone he never intended to become. Along the way, he must navigate his growing romantic feelings for another girl his age and the perceptions of what society considers to be the default: male-female, gender-binary, heteronormative romantic dynamics.
I’m going to toss out a broad generalization here: most straight people, I think, have no clue as to what LGBT individuals endure. To be honest, I didn’t before I considered the subject.
Maybe I have a little more understanding now, not only due to writing these protagonists, but also because for the past twenty-six years I’ve been living in Japan. In a sense, I’m also “the other.” As a foreigner here, I’m constantly reminded of my heritage, my difference, simply because of the way I look. My wife is Japanese, making our marriage interracial and our children bi-racial. My kids have had to deal with (mercifully, very little) racism. But that is society as it stands right now. I only hope that my children will put any negative comments they may hear where they belong — in the garbage — and become the good people that I know they can be.
By no means is this a deep examination of what being the other is. That would take far too long and too many pages and perhaps you’d all fall asleep by then. But I learned something when writing Twisted, and learned something more when writing Lindsay Versus the Marauders (in which the main character is a lesbian and a teenager, and has the adventure of a lifetime), my novel that’s being published this summer.
Through writing these novels, I learned to think in a different way, one that’s outside my own perspective.
And that ain’t a bad way at all.
J.S. Frankel, an expat Canadian, lives in Osaka with his wife Akiko and their two children, Kai and Ray. He writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. Twisted is his latest novel, published by Regal Crest.